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Cherry Blossoms, 2017

Brian Clarke

Look closely at this luminous stained-glass screen, which is now on view in the exhibition Brian Clarke: The Art of Light. Discover how the artist imbues the medieval art form with new meaning and make your own stained-glass inspired artwork in this object lesson for all ages.

LOOK 

Take a close look at Cherry Blossoms, which is one of 23 dramatic stained-glass screens included in the exhibition Brian Clarke: The Art of Light.

  • What do the colors and patterns remind you of?
  • Glass is all around us! Locate three things around you that are made of glass. How are these objects similar to or different from Cherry Blossoms?

Now, take a look at how the screens are displayed together in the exhibition. Curator Paul Greenhalgh describes the works assembled together as forming “a forest of light.”

  • What do you think Greenhalgh means by this?
  • Can you spot Cherry Blossoms among the other screens? How does light interact with the artwork?

EXPLORE

Brian Clarke is a British artist recognized for his innovative work in the medium of stained glass. Traditionally, stained glass is made by coloring glass, then assembling pieces of the colored glass to create a pattern or illustrate a story. The glass is held together by a framework of lead that emphasizes the lines and shapes that form the design. Brian Clarke has eliminated the lead support in his stained-glass screens, using advanced laser and acid-etching technology to create imagery not possible before and a nearly endless color palette. Clarke works with the LambertGlass factory in Germany to produce mouth-blown glass molded into flat panels. Since each panel is individually produced, every section of the screen has its own unique variations in surface texture and color.

Watch this video to learn more about the LambertsGlas process.

  • What do you notice about the process?
  • Look back at Cherry Blossoms. Each screen is made up of twelve panels set in a wooden frame. Now that you know that each panel is individually hand-produced, what do you notice about the variations in surface texture and color?

DISCUSS  

Stained glass was popularized during the Middle Ages in Europe with the construction of Gothic cathedrals. Its illustrated format presented content for those who could not read, as well as provided a mystical experience from the light piercing the space. Clarke remarks of the medium, “Stained glass has been regarded as a metaphor for the divine for over a millennium, because light has been regarded as a metaphor for the divine.”  Clarke takes stained glass out of its sacred context and imbues the medium with new meaning. He explains, “Originally, the church was where stained glass was born and nourished, and to have it have another life, you had to drag it kicking and screaming out of an ecclesiastical environment and into an urban, secular life.”

  • Look at examples of medieval stained-glass windows. How is Cherry Blossoms different from traditional stained glass?
  • Why might Clarke choose to depict a cherry blossom tree in stained glass, a medium traditionally reserved for ecclesiastical subject matter?

Cherry Blossoms takes the form of a folding screen. Folding screens originated in Asia as freestanding partitions for functional and decorative use. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries the form was imported to Europe and adapted by many Western artists and architects. Clarke’s screens extend this history into the contemporary and appropriate the design form as a way to activate two-dimensional designs in three-dimensional spaces. The screen structure allows the glass panels to come alive and interact with the gallery setting, as the natural light changes throughout the day.

  • How does the design of Cherry Blossoms utilize the structure of the screen? How does each individual panel relate to the whole?

MAKE

For Brian Clarke, the screen format provides a grid-like structure that he then “undermines” with his unexpected, colorful glass compositions. Use masking tape or painters’ tape to create a grid over a piece of paper, dividing the paper into rectangles (they can be as large or small as you like). Use color pencils, markers, or even highlighters to draw designs or patterns in each rectangle. Challenge yourself to completely fill in each space with color. When you are finished, peel away the tape to reveal clean borders. If your paper is thin enough, you can place your artwork against a bright window for a stained-glass effect.

  • Tip: Don’t worry about coloring over the tape since you will be removing this at the end.
  • Tip: For a painting project, use watercolor paper and watercolor paints instead. Make sure your artwork is completely dry before removing the tape.

Brian Clarke (United Kingdom, b. 1953)
Cherry Blossoms, 2017
Stained glass and wooden frame
80 5/16 × 99 3/16 in. (204 × 252 cm)

This Object Lesson is adapted from our Teacher Resource Guide on Glass written by Queena Ko.

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